Pelham with a figure eight... thoughts?

I’ve been jumping my mare in a pelham (no chain bc she doesn’t like it) and a figure eight. She goes well in it but I know that there are some that don’t like the set up. Just wanted to know what other people’s thoughts were.

Well, I don’t like your set up mainly because the chain serves a purpose and should be there. It prevents riders from pulling too much… over rotating the bit.

Combined with a figure-eight where the horse cannot escape the bit by opening its mouth… You have quite a combination.

You’d be better using a gag bit.


The action of a pelham still acts as it should by applying some pressure on the poll… if you’re riding solely on the curb rein and a rider is pulling anyway they shouldn’t be using the bit? If the chain is preventing over rotation it sounds like your describing riding the bit off the of the chain rather then the bit itself. I ride mostly on the snaffle rein. Can you be more specific about the purpose of the chain? It’s just too much for my mare, she likes the pelham as is.

The pelham I’m specifically using is the Stubben Hollow Mouth Pelham Bit.

Obviously you wouldn’t be riding an overly tight figure eight nose band, it would be fitted comfortably. Perhaps what I’m looking for is how exactly the the mechanics of the snaffle mouth piece and pelham side piece would counteract/contradict a figure 8 nose band?

Isn’t the pelham basically a “next level” snaffle (like adding more leverage) because of the snaffle mouth piece?

I’ve also heard that a pelham should really only be used with a straight bar mouth piece, but I have no evidence/research to support that.

Isn’t your mom a pro or something up in the Portland/Vancouver area? Have you talked to her reading how the set up would work?

omitting the chain on a Pelham negates the action of the bit, plus it should be illegal in the show ring as it is improper use of equipment.if the chain is too harsh either the horse needs to be backed down to a snaffle or you can wrap the chain with vet wrap for additional padding.

if you are handy to Cindy Ross with Cantera then I suggest calling and setting up a bitting clinic. She is highly knowledgeable and a great resource in the PNW.


The curb chain/strap often hits under the chin exactly where the figure 8 lies, that is why this combo isn’t typical (a standard noseband is much higher up under the chin and doesn’t interfere with the bit). Using a pelham without the curb chain or a curb strap (or both) kind of defeats the purpose of the “curb rein”. Yes, it still applies some pressure to the pole, but without the chain/strap, the bit can over-rotate, apply too much pressure to the horses mouth and just be too harsh. The chain/strap has a purpose.

I guess I’d ask - why the figure 8? Is your mare evasive to the bit in some way or is she prone to opening her mouth or sticking out her tongue? I know figure 8’s are used in jumpers/cross-country, but pretty sure they aren’t used/legal in most if not all hunter classes. That may be something to consider if you do hunter shows.

A pelham is a more severe bit than say, a standard full cheek snaffle - especially a jointed pelham. The longer the shanks, the more pressure that’s applied to the pole, mouth, curb, etc. But I wouldn’t say it’s more “advanced”, as in a horse graduates from a snaffle to a pelham as they develop their skills. However, it does take a more advanced rider to properly use a pelham with double reins.

The difference in the jointed vs. mullen mouth is how the bit applies pressure inside the mouth, The mullen applies even pressure across the tongue/bars - the jointed applies pressure directly to the bars and if the reins are pulled hard enough, the joint will put pressure on the pallet as well.

In the hunter/jumper world, pelhams are used on horses that need a little extra “whoa”, or horses that need multiple cues for steering or collection or control. It used to be that mullen mouths were fairly standard, but maybe the jointed pelhams are now “the thing”? I rode my ConnemaraXThoroughbred large pony in a rubber mullen mouth pelham on fox hunts only (as I needed an extra pair of brakes LOL), but he normally went in a full check snaffle.

Agree with all those above. I think your set up is asking for eventual trouble.

However the following is worth repeating: It does take a more advanced rider to properly use a pelham with double reins.

Pelham w/figure 8 doesn’t allow the horse to escape pressure when listening to the aids and obeying rider requests.
Judicious use of the curb rein (with a loose curb chain in place) should be the reinforcement when using a Pelham.

Not to get all ‘judge-y’, but figure 8 w/pelham in my old-timer circles is unnecessarily harsh.


Pretty sure McLain and Beezie etc use pelhams with figure eights on a fairly regular basis


Well, shoot… I need to watch some videos of current riders. Thanks for drawing my attention to this.

1 Like

Pelhams with a converter and one rein are very common, too.

1 Like

With respect to the action, a pelham without a curb chain isn’t acting as a pelham, it acting as some kind of funky gag without any rotation of the mouthpiece around the center ring.

Can you use a figure 8 with a gag? Yeah, you can, so I guess, to answer your question with minimal editorializing on your choices, yes, if you’re using a pelham without a curb chain, you can use a figure 8 noseband.

But why, oh, why, would you use a pelham without a curb chain? Like alibi_18 said, you’d be better just using a gag. I didn’t say no editorializing, I said minimal editorializing. :lol:

I see pelhams used with figure 8s all the time. Tons of event riders use it, as well as jumpers. I do agree that without the curb chain it isnt acting with the original purposes for the bit, but if your horse is happy with the set up, i dont see it being a problem at all. Comfort of the horse above all.

Thank you everyone for your responses! Perhaps I’ll try her back in a normal nose band and/or play with a double rein gag and see how it goes. Honestly it was more of a “trainer told me to do it” and it worked so I stuck with it.

I do wonder what the other professionals (mclain, beezie) thoughts processes were when using the set up.

I’ve also never seen the chain as low as the lower strap on the figure eight.

I loved the discussion!

Knowing the OP, and her jumper, it it’s working, then don’t change. Is it unconventional? Well, certainly, but not terribly. I’m betting you’ve tried a few bits and nosebands along your journey with your girl.

A place to start would be with these questions: What are you trying to achieve with this configuration? What is it about it that works? What is your mare doing that a different bit/noseband combination might address?

And a quick Google search indeed shows Mclain riding in a pelham with a figure eight (with a chain).

There are a couple of mild options to replace a curb chain for a horse that doesn’t like the feel, as well.

If I rode my old boy in a Pelham, he preferred a leather curb strap to a chain, plain or wrapped in vetwrap. There is also an elastic curb strap available that you can use with the existing hooks. I did have to take the hooks off for the curb strap.

The importance of the curb chain/strap as said above it to prevent over-rotation of the bit. It also encourages the horse to keep its nose poked out a bit instead of curling behind the contact as an evasion. That was the weak point I found with my horse in a gag; if he did get heavy, and I got heavy handed in return, he’d just curl his chin to his chest and do whatever he pleased.

That said, horses don’t read bitting manuals, and sometimes in judicious hands, an unconventional setup gets the job done in a way that horse and rider are safe and happy.


Fitted correctly, the curb chain will not be in the way of either strap of the figure 8. That shouldn’t be a problem with using this setup. If the chain is too harsh for this horse, there are alternatives. Leather straps, gel covers, etc. You can also adjust it to be on the looser side. Or, you can switch to something that doesn’t need a curb strap such as a full cheek with keepers or a gag or elevator bit or a Universal bit (the action of the lower ring is muted somewhat by an overlapping ring design.